The other night, the topic we discussed over dinner in my household was, “how do you talk to someone about their alcohol or drug addiction?” One would think that on the evening we chose to get takeout – in the interest of keeping things “relaxed” – our conversation wouldn’t be so serious. However, as two people who work in helping fields, we just can’t help ourselves. What we found was that the answer to the question of, “how do you talk to someone about their alcohol or drug addiction” is not one that can be simplified over sandwiches and french fries.
Serendipitously, the following morning, Justin Etling and Nicole White talked about “understanding and loving someone who is sick and suffering” on the Process Radio Show. These coincidences happen to me all the time; I don’t understand why – but I love them!
Justin and Nicole concurred that there are no easy answers to the question of, “how do you talk to someone about their alcohol or drug addiction”. While there is no “roadmap” that will magically guide your loved one to a drug rehab or addiction treatment center in New Hampshire , we can certainly offer perspective from both personal and professional experience.
So – How Do You Talk to Someone About Their Drinking (Or Using)?
If a family member – or anyone you care about – is harming himself or others with his drinking – you probably want him to seek help from a nationally accredited addiction treatment center in New Hampshire. The ideal outcome for people struggling with substance use disorder is treatment at a drug rehab, as well as recovery maintenance through programs like Partial Hospitalization (PHP) and Intensive Outpatient (IOP). However, the process usually isn’t that cut and dry. When you enter a conversation with someone about their drinking or using, and your objective is to steer the outcome toward a drug rehab, IOP, or addiction treatment center, you will invariably end up feeling disappointed.
People with substance use disorder need love and connection, which is challenging to give when their behaviors are so out of character. “People, when they start to use drugs and alcohol, lose their focus on what’s important and what’s not,” Justin explained. “It becomes survival; you need the drugs and alcohol in order to be okay. People act out of character to survive sometimes”. However, these out-of-character behaviors can become fodder for negativity. “As parents we’re taught our children are ours,”Justin asserted.
It’s not uncommon to get caught in this pride-based trap. Our loved one’s accomplishments become our accomplishments. How often do we hear, “I’m so proud of my son or daughter for _________”. At family gatherings, people with substance use disorder do not receive glowing praise when, sadly, they are always worthy of positive regard, even when they’re struggling. An alternative way to talk about a loved one might be, “Let’s focus our love on him/her. He/she could really use some love and compassion right now”.
“Our kids who are struggling need love,” Justin maintained. “Control is the complete opposite of love. There’s nothing you are going to be able to do to control your loved one”.
“You see people exhaust themselves trying to control [their loved one], when the person can’t [even] control it,” Nicole agreed.
“It becomes more stressful when you decide you have to fix the problem for someone else,” added Justin. “People need to experience trials and tribulations in order to be successful. “[People with substance use disorder], in my experience, are always looking for the easier, softer way. Recovery equates to walking through some trials and tribulations, and not taking shortcuts. It’s not a path you want to take, it’s a path you have to take. It’s okay for people to struggle. You don’t need to figure it out for them”.
If You Can’t Control It, What Can You Do?
If trying to control the outcome of a conversation is generally unhelpful, how do you talk to someone about their drinking or using?
Justin advocates for people to be gentle with themselves. In recounting his own experience, he admits he isn’t perfect. It’s not easy when you are fearful and emotions are running high. “At the end of the day, everyone needs to decide what’s right for them,” Justin asserted. “There are different times when different things are appropriate”.
Here are some strategies you can try:
- Learn as much as possible about substance use disorder, which may require getting some support for yourself. You are more likely to be swept up by anger or frustration when you enter a conversation without some knowledge under your belt. By seeking support, you also model healthy behavior.
- Keep the focus on your love for the individual. Express concern but avoid blame or accusation, as these tend to elicit denial and defensiveness. Use “I-statements” to describe how you have been harmed by your loved one’s substance use. If your loved one does not seem receptive to the conversation, let them know you’re there to talk or offer support.
- Set firm boundaries. A boundary Justin uses is, “I will not help you use drugs and alcohol, or engage in conversations in which you ask me to help you use drugs and alcohol”. Giving your loved one money or paying for basic needs (when he or she is capable) are two examples of enabling substance use. Part of healthy boundary setting is also deciding how to keep yourself safe. That may mean your loved one cannot live with you. Your loved one may try to make you feel guilty about taking care of yourself, but there is nothing wrong with honoring your own safety and wellbeing. Contrary to popular belief, you can love someone unconditionally while simultaneously maintaining boundaries that demonstrate you care about yourself, too.
- Manage your expectations. You cannot foster a healthy relationship with your loved one by deciding you’re in charge of their decisions. However, you can certainly reassure your loved one that if they want help getting into rehab centers in NH, you’re there when they are ready. Have these resources lined up before a conversation so you’re ready to act if your loved one wants help.
- Nicole suggests simply opening up a dialogue with your loved ones about how they are doing, and what they are thinking and feeling. These conversations nurture trust and connection, and are also a great prevention tool.
- Many conversations about drug and alcohol use derail over the subject of money. There’s nothing wrong with giving people a financial boost in early recovery – perhaps if they’re showing initiative in sober living or inpatient drug rehab in New Hampshire – but evaluate whether they are looking for the so-called easier, softer way. “Help people who are helping themselves,” Justin encouraged.
The bottom line, according to Justin, is this: “Be available with open, loving, caring arms, and always have an avenue for them to do the right thing…[but] anything [other] than that…shut it down”.
The Process Radio Show airs every Wednesday at 10:05 a.m. You can view the full radio show on this topic here:
Autumn Khavari is the Process Recovery Center’s in-house writer. She received an education in Substance Use Counseling from Beal College in Bangor, Maine.
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